Encouraging a Young Reluctant Writer

From Our House to Yours

Encouraging a Young Reluctant Writer

Do you have a young reluctant writer? Well, take heart! Time, consistency, and gradual changes can help. I know it can seem frustrating, and it is awfully tempting just to turn written assignments into oral assignments. However, that will not solve the problem. Unless children have special needs preventing them to do so, children need to learn to write. They need to be able to share their knowledge, opinions, and passions in the written form. Even in this world of typing or tapping on phones or keyboards, writing using good old fashioned pencil and paper is still a necessary skill to have. So, how can you encourage your young reluctant writer?

Young reluctant writers need time!

First, young reluctant writers simply need time. Fine motor skills take time to develop. Just as professional weight-lifters need time to develop muscles to lift larger weights, so do young writers need to time develop dexterity and strength to write more. Heart of Dakota’s younger guides begin with copywork, so children write looking at a model with proper spelling and punctuation. This way, they can focus on writing letters, words, and sentences properly without the added pressure of figuring out spelling and punctuation too. So, be sure to encourage reluctant writers that with time, their strength and dexterity to write will improve!

Young reluctant writers need consistency!

Second, reluctant writers need consistency. Heart of Dakota’s plans take into account the amount of writing across all subject areas. This is one of the many reasons using Heart of Dakota for all subject areas makes sense! One author, Carrie Austin, wrote each Heart of Dakota guide. As she wrote, she paid attention to keeping a balance of skills each day. So, for example, if history required writing, science probably did not require writing. Reluctant writers need consistency, and by following Heart of Dakota’s plans, that writing consistency is inherent. Simply by expecting and encouraging children to consistently write what is planned each day in each subject, reluctant writers begin to grow into stronger writers.

Gradual changes help young reluctant writers improve! 

Third, gradual changes help young reluctant writers improve. In Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory, children use classical poetry for copywork. Starting with copywork is so important! Children can then focus on following a proper model as they write. At the start, children might copy one line of poetry. Then, a gradual change can be made in a month or two, and children can begin to copy two lines of poetry. In another month or two, children can begin to copy three lines of poetry. The next month or so, children can begin to copy four lines of poetry. In the same way, reluctant writers can make gradual changes in the size of their writing. Over time, they can be encouraged to slowly shrink their writing. They can gradually write on smaller lines, until finally, they are writing on wide-lined notebook paper. Little by little, with gradual changes, reluctant writers will improve!

In Closing

I want to encourage you that with time, consistency, and gradual changes your reluctant writer will improve! If your children are placed in a Heart of Dakota guide that assigns writing, the first simple step is to be sure to encourage and expect your children to do it. If you need to start smaller, do. But, try to make gradual progress so that by the end of the guide, children are able to do the amount writing they are assigned to do. Being a good writer is rare enough these days to be an asset inside and outside of the home. Keep encouraging reluctant kiddos to write, and you will see progress!

In Christ,

Should my son do copywork or handwriting?

Dear Carrie

Should my son do copywork or handwriting?

I’m using Heart of Dakota’s Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory with my 7 year-old this year. His fine motor skills are slow-coming. His hand tires easily when cutting, writing, and coloring. At the end of Little Hearts for His Glory, his writing had improved a lot. However, he still struggled with the correct formation of some of his letters. He wasn’t forming all his letter correctly. I was reading a different Heart of Dakota message board thread about handwriting in kindergarten. Julie had written, “…having the strokes progressively taught goes a long way for teaching children proper manuscript. Since writing progressively moves front and center for the subsequent years of learning, one year at least of formal manuscript instruction makes more of an easy go of it for years to come.”

I’m wondering if I should just go with the copywork in Beyond Little Hearts? Or, should I use another handwriting book (like A Reason For Handwriting A) to review how to form letters and slowly ease into copywork? One of my biggest fears in homeschooling is that I will miss something, or not realize something to be important/need corrected or focused on…especially in these early years. Any thoughts? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Help My Son Improve His Handwriting”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Improve His Handwriting,”

From what you’ve shared about your little honey, I would lean toward doing A Reason for Handwriting A with Beyond. Simply skip the reviews (the first 30 lessons) of all of the letters given in the beginning of the book and jump right in with the daily lessons on copying words instead. Do it daily 4-5 days a week, and you will finish about 9-12 weeks earlier than you finish Beyond. For at least the last 12-15 weeks be sure to do the poetry copywork as well in preparation for Bigger Hearts. Your sweetie will also be doing copywork of sentences in spelling in Beyond each week, along with writing spelling words daily. There is some copywork in the grammar lessons once weekly as well.

We did this handwriting path with my 3rd son back in Beyond, and he really made great gains. We finished Beyond the beginning of the next school year and then moved into Bigger Hearts. By then, he was ready to ease into more writing. Some little guys just need more time to grow in their motor skills.


Does your child get off track? Here’s a game plan for getting back on!

Dear Carrie

What can I do when my son gets off track and drags out his day?

We figured out a schedule for our school days last week that worked really well! (Thanks Heart of Dakota – great idea!) We did our son’s English/DITHOR mostly orally and had set blocks of time for work. I thought we’d solved the main issue, which was my oldest dragging out his day and getting off track by complaining and not doing his writing. Today was going really well until he didn’t get his cursive done. He said he would do it during his free time. I said okay, not thinking it would be a big deal. Then, we got to science, which was a notebooking assignment. He had to copy a kind of long Bible verse. But, he had not been required to do much writing at all today. I mean, is that really asking too much?!?

He has good handwriting. I think he just doesn’t want to do it. He has cried, complained, said he was too tired (so I had him go to bed for a bit to rest, which got him further off track). Now, he has lost outside time. He said he didn’t want to go out today anyway (so not true – he loves to be outside). Now, I’m taking away his tv time (sometimes they can watch one show after nap). How do I fix this? I like to get school done, but he is again getting off track and dragging things out. I would appreciate any suggestions! He is such a good boy and very bright, usually obedient. It just seems he doesn’t want to do any amount of writing. How can I keep my son on track and happily moving on through his school day?


“Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day,”

With my boys, once we began implementing a schedule, I looked at the times on the schedule as a general rule of thumb rather than legalistic times. So, for instance if something on the schedule is meant to take 15 minutes, as long as the child is working, I allow a bit more time if needed (like 5-15 extra minutes). Once I can see we are stretching beyond that and are headed toward getting far enough off track that we soon can’t recover, I jump in and help the child recover if at all possible.

Getting Back on Track and Happily Moving Through the Day

To get back on track, I might do all of an English lesson orally, assigning none to be done on paper. Or, I may write out the math problems from the textbook to help the child move more quickly. I might downsize a math assignment a bit if needed. Or, I might put away or set out a child’s materials open to the needed pages to move him along. I may write a younger child’s answers to DITHOR, while he dictates them to me to save time.

Or, I might sit right by a child pointing out text or redirecting while he works to keep him on task. I might read directions aloud from an older child’s guide while he follows them. Or, I might send the kiddos for a much needed break, while I quickly check their work to see why they might have gotten off track. Anyway, these are just a few ideas of how you can partner with your kiddos to keep them on track and happily moving through their day.

Fixing an Off-Track School Day with a “Finish School” Time

Next, I’ll share that I have a “finish school” time in the afternoon for my third son. This is a 45 minute block of time that is a part of his schedule (after his lunch, recess, and work in the warehouse break). This is a time where he returns to his schoolwork and finishes anything he did not finish earlier during the school day. This works well for him right now! He has learned he prefers to get it done then rather than have it left in the evening. However, when we were training him in diligent work habits when he was younger, we had a work time in the evening after supper when he worked with his Dad on anything he had not finished during the school day with me. This worked well, as it was Dad who enforced the finishing rather than me!

Getting Your Son’s Handwriting Back on Track

In your son’s case, when he begins melting down over the handwriting, I would jump in to stem the tide right away. You can say something like… “Alright, I can see that you are overwhelmed with the amount of copy work today! You will have to work up to doing all of it eventually. However, to help you today, since it is a longer passage, I will write the first sentence (or two) to get you started. Then, you need to dry your eyes and get going with the rest. Let’s see how much you can get done then in 10 minutes if you work hard the whole time.” Often, once kiddos see the length reducing before they begin, they feel more able to do it. This is true of any assignment they find overwhelming!

Encourage diligent work, but still require the work to be done.

Then, head away to do something else after setting the 10 minute timer. Be sure he knows he doesn’t have to finish in that amount of time. He just needs to work diligently. If you return and he has shown progress, he can either finish (if he’s close to done) or set it aside to do the rest later. If he has chosen not to progress in the 10 minutes, simply let him know this means he’ll have to finish it later. Then, set the work aside to be done at the later time you’ve designated for leftover work (either in the evening with Dad or in the late afternoon).

Partner with your child, but if a consequence is still needed, award it only one time in the day.

If he does not work hard during the leftover work time, then you award the consequence at that time. This means you are giving the child every chance to succeed without drawing battle lines all throughout the day. You’ll only have one time that you award the consequence. You want your child to see you are partnering with them to get their work done instead of lying in wait to take away privileges. (Even though you really aren’t, they see it that way!)

Also, if the child ends up with quite a pile of work to finish during the “leftover work” time, both you and your husband (and your child) will be able to see that the day wasn’t very productive. You can discuss ways to do better the next day then. But again, you are partnering with the child to help them be successful. Anyway, these are just some thoughts you can ponder to see what might work in your family when your son gets off track.



Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Heart of Dakota Life

Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Red pens can make people shudder. Why? Well, red pens used to be a teacher’s weapon of choice for tearing a written paper to shreds – all in the name of ‘correcting’ or ‘editing.’ I always enjoyed writing, but I had a friend who didn’t. He tried so hard, but writing was just not his thing. I remember him getting a paper he’d written back from the teacher with more red on it than any color. He was embarrassed and devastated. He also didn’t know where to begin to be a better writer. I wanted to help him but felt pretty defeated too. Where do you begin when everything is wrong? Well, you build better writing habits just like you build any structure you want to be solid…  one step at a time.

Choose the first step carefully – success is a must!

For kiddos to feel confident in building their writing skills, it is important to focus on improving one skill at a time. I choose the first step to building a better writer carefully. Children need to experience success. For little ones, proper formation of letters is important. Spending time by their side to encourage and gently correct mistakes helps prevent poor habits. Heart of Dakota’s handwriting programs in Little Hearts for His Glory can help instill these good habits. Once students move past writing letters well, the next concern is often spacing issues. Their words might all run together. Or, they may not use the top, dotted, and bottom lines as stopping places. Building a better writer begins with the step of helping them recognize how to correct spacing issues. Below, you can see some ways I addressed this with our sons.

Other Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once children have learned proper letter formation and spacing, often the next step to building a better writer is simply shrinking their writing. Moving from handwriting paper to wide-lined notebook paper is a step that takes much encouragement. As students shrink their writing, often times legibility and spacing becomes an issue again. One of my sons began making the letter “s” with no curve – essentially, every letter “s” looked like the letter “l”. Another son didn’t close his vowels. Basically every letter “a” and every letter “o” looked like the letter “u”.  My nephew wrote every lowercase “r” as a giant “r,” as tall as a capital letter. Another nephew wrote microscopically small. One of my sons put large spaces in the middle of bigger words, making them look like two words. Each of these steps were patiently tackled, one at a time.

Further Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once letter formation, spacing, shrinking, and legibility have been tackled, often times spelling is next. There are many steps to building a better speller. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota makes this maze of how to begin to build a better speller easier. Spelling tips in the Appendix include a hierarchy of steps to work through. Beginning steps involve more parent help. Ending steps promote more independent spelling helps. More mature steps to build a better writer come next. Maybe students need to use better transition words. Or, maybe they need to vary the length of their sentences. It could be they need to use more descriptive words. Or, maybe they need to do a better job of choosing their topic. Heart of Dakota’s editing list, R & S English’s lessons, and formal writing programs’ instructions in each guide help each step of the way. So, here’s to building better writers – one step at a time!

In Christ,





How can I improve my 11-year-old’s writing and independence in CTC?

Dear Carrie

What can I do to improve my 11-year-old son’s writing and level of independence in CTC?

My 11-year-old son is combined with his advanced 12-year-old sister in Creation to Christ. Writing is hard for him, so I write down the events as I read the history. Then, he uses that list to type his written narration. He needs so much hand holding! He does have some learning issues, as well as dysgraphia. My kids were not independent in Preparing Hearts. My goal in CTC was to gradually have them gain independence, as we moved along. So, they read the science, but I’ve still been reading aloud the history. My daughter could read the history and understand it. But, my son could not! He’s even struggling reading Gentle Ben in DITHOR. I just don’t want school to be frustrating for him. He LOVES history and geography! I want him to continue to do so. Help! What can I do to improve my son’s writing and independence?


“Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and Independence”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and His Independence,”

Thanks so much for sharing about your situation. In looking at your kiddos, how important is it for you to keep them together? The reason I ask is because you could consider having your son go back and do Preparing Hearts without his older sibling. He could do the history readings independently, as well as the science and independent history box as much as possible. As he didn’t do these things independently before, it is possible it won’t feel like so much of a repeat. Plus, when you read material to yourself and follow directions in the guide on your own, often the assignment will turn out differently.

Doing all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing Hearts could improve his work in all the future guides.

Did your son do pretty much all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing (or did you downsize, skip, or change assignments to fit him better)? The reason I ask is because if you did downsize, skip, or change it may not be as much of a repeat as you’d think for him to do Preparing. Plus, it is possible that in the long haul this will be a better fit for him for all the future guides which come after Preparing.

Your daughter can begin reading the CTC history to herself, as well do the rest of the “I” boxes independently.

As far as your older child goes, I would have her gain more independence by starting to read the CTC history to herself now, since she is able to do it. I would continue having her read her science on her own. I would also encourage you to have her do all of the ‘I’ independent boxes as much on her own as possible, with help from you when she hits a roadblock. You can go over directions with her, but let her have the guide to work on her ‘I’ independent boxes as much as she can on her own. I want to encourage you that this will bless all of you eventually. Your daughter will feel more grown-up, and you will have more time to be with your son to improve his work.

Otherwise, your son could work toward more independence in CTC eventually.

If returning to Preparing does not seem like a fit, you could consider teaching your son more in CTC than we plan, with the thought of moving him toward more independence eventually. I would not hold your daughter back from working independently to do this. Instead, I would let her do the assignments as close to the way they were intended as possible. This means you would work more with your son, but let your daughter be more on her own. Since you shared that your son is able to read the science readings in CTC independently, I would be inclined to think that he could also read the history readings on his own to some extent. This is because the science readings in Land Animals are fairly difficult and are not as far away from the level of the history readings as you’d think.

You could alternate reading by paragraph with him at first.

You could potentially alternate reading by paragraph with him through the history readings, eventually handing more independence over to him. Just know that it is alright if he doesn’t pronounce everything correctly. Students reading to themselves don’t pronounce everything correctly either! If he is able to do most of CTC as written, with the exception of the independent readings, this may be an option.

If you try this and end up modifying almost all of CTC’s written work and readings, I’d place him in Preparing instead.

On the other hand, if you end up modifying almost all of his written work in CTC one way or another, and are modifying the readings by reading them aloud too, then I would be inclined to think he is in over his head in most areas. In this case, he would benefit from Preparing instead. I share this because if you were a new family just coming to HOD for the first time, I would lean heavily toward placing your son in Preparing and your daughter in CTC.

The “Written Narration Tips” are helpful for kiddos who struggle with written narrations.

As far as written narrations go, it’s a good idea to refer to the Written Narration Tips (Teacher’s List) in the back of the CTC guide. This helps give some perspective on how to handle written narrations. There are some tips for kiddos who struggle with written narrations that are very helpful. So, I encourage you to take a look at those as soon as you get a chance.

You can use the helps within the daily plans for writing as well. 

Also, make sure to use the helps within the daily plans of CTC for written narrations as well. Have your kiddos begin by copying the sentence starter provided in the written narration directions box on written narration day. Then, have your kiddos answer their way through the questions provided in the box as a guide for their narration. They can honestly write a one-sentence answer for each question and end up with a good written narration. These helps in CTC bow out more and more as the year progresses. However, they are a huge help in narrating to start. They remain in the Preparing box for written narrations all year though. So, if you do decide to place your son in Preparing those helps would remain.

Balance is key, but we want his year to be joyful – to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point!

As we ponder options for your son, I want his school year to improve to be joyful and to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point! Balance is key, and kiddos with challenges need a special dose of grace and very incremental steps to higher expectations skill-wise. Teaching kiddos with learning challenges is a special calling. I know the Lord has equipped you for this task, or He would not have given your son to you. It may be that his areas of challenge are just showing themselves a bit more now as his sister is older and is gaining faster than he is (and rightfully so due to her age). Sometimes the gap between kiddos takes awhile to show itself. It may be that it is just showing itself more now. This just may be the course their academic growth is taking.